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"We are tired and hungry. Feed us!" Photograph from LHOON on Flickr

Changing trains in D.C.? Got a few hours to kill? Rolling your eyes at the fluorescent-lit options near the Amtrak desk? Relax and embrace the glory of a layover meal. It shouldn't require heavy-thinking, just strange characters and comforting foods that will eat up time.

About the author: Erin Zimmer, our Washington, D.C., correspondent, is a new media analyst and frequently writes for Washingtonian, DCist, and other local publications. While Georgetown's food columnist, she investigated the cafeteria's omelet station, Hoya coffeeshop's cultish pumpkin muffins, and what exactly the basketball players ate.


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Taqueria Nacionale

Address: 400 N Capitol Street NW, Washington DC 20001
Phone: 202-737-7070
It's got the plastic cutlery aura of a taqueria, but run by James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Cashions. When she's not making gumbo next-door for white tablecloth diners at Johnny's Half Shell (see below), she's overseeing the assembly line of double-layered corn tortillas, filled with Baja Cali-reminiscent fish, braised pork, buffalo and other yummy meats. Avocado salsas and pico de gallo are made fresh, and to drink, there's Mexican-made Coke and jugs of refreshing agua fresca. Only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch.

B. Smith’s

Address: 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington DC 20002
Phone: 202-289-6188
Website: bsmith.com
Presidents used to sneak through this elegant-looking (and feeling) dining room attached to Union Station when catching the Amtrak and avoiding normal-people crowds. This is like a Southern fare version of Planet Hollywood. A tad overpriced for shrimp and grits, but you get to look at photos of owner “B.” wrapping her arms around politicos and pop culture celebs.

Bistro Bis

Address: 15 E Street NW, Washington DC 20001
Phone: 202-661-2700
Website: bistrobis.com
More frou-frou French than casual bistro. It’s inside the Hotel George and pricey, but consistently exquisite, thanks to James Beard-nominated chef Jeff Buben. Mussels, sweetbreads and foie gras are the expected crowd favorites.

Kelly’s Irish Times

Address: 14 F Street NW, Washington DC 20001
Phone: 202-543-5433
Less touristy than the other Guinness-pouring pub next door, the Dubliner, this is the food hug you need when disillusioned and lost in D.C. Hearty comfort foods like fish and chips hit the spot, and fiddle players might be involved.

Kelly’s Cajun Grill

Address: 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington DC 20002
Another Kelly, but completely different. Go downstairs the station to this football field-sized food court in the basement. Definitely not as exquisite as Grand Central Terminal, but it's an experience, that's for sure. Itty-bitty chicken samples are hawked at you from all over, but these are my personal fav. If you do enough laps, the bird flecks might even add up to a whole meal!

Johnny’s Half Shell

Address: 400 North Capitol Street NW, Washington DC 20001
Phone: 202-737-0400
Website: johnnyshalfshell.net
Just a short three-minute walk from the station, located inside the Fox News building and facing the U.S. Capitol. Some of the city's freshest seafood. Go for the gumbo, fried oysters, tequila-cured gravlax, or carnivores heads-up, the beef brisket po’boy.

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